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Rebel's Honor

By:Gwynn White

Rebel's Honor
Gwynn White

       A Steampunk Fantasy in the Crown of Blood Series



Chapter 1





Lynx crouched in the tawny grass, her eyes fixed on a nest scraped out  of the gray sand. A dozen white eggs gleamed in the weak autumn  sunshine. Unguarded now, it would not be long before a parent returned  to watch the precious hoard. She grinned at her younger brother, Clay,  who squatted next to her. His freckled face beamed back. His blue eyes,  so like her own, glistened with excitement.

Movement on the plain caught her attention. She brushed his arm, clad in  a worn leather tunic similar to hers, and nodded toward an ostrich  striding in their direction. "It's the male," she whispered. "Just as we  planned."

They had chosen dusk for this egg raid because that was when the males  took over nest duty from the hens. More dangerous than females, ostrich  cocks increased the risk, making the ultimate prize so much more  valuable.

Clay's grin broadened, but his throat bobbed.

Lynx tried but failed to ignore the shimmy of doubt rippling through  her. She liked to believe her bravery was tempered by intelligence-most  of the time, at least-but people outside of her tribe would call her and  Clay insane for what they were planning.

They'd be right.

The next few minutes would decide the course of her little brother's life. And destroy hers, too, if anything went wrong.

A determined frown settled on her face. After all our planning, nothing  will go wrong. She swept her blond hair, braided with black ostrich  feathers and eggshell beads, away from her face and focused on the  ostrich.

Black wings flapping, it bayed a warning, a thrilling sound that always  reminded her of the distant call of hunting lions. It was appropriate.  An angry ostrich was every bit as vicious as any lion. She had seen  friends disemboweled by ostrich kicks; as much as she loved the sound,  she didn't take the threat lightly. She reached back and pulled out a  machete-one of two stored in leather sheaths strapped across her back.  She held it ready in case the bird attacked.

Clay clenched his own machete. "He's seen us."

"Smelled us, more like it," Lynx whispered.

Clay licked his lip nervously. "Of course. The wind's behind us. I forgot."

Uncertainty again assailed Lynx, and her frown deepened. She had told  Clay countless times that alerting the ostrich to their presence was  part of the challenge of an egg raid. This once-off rite of passage  strove to push him to the limit of his courage. Only the very bravest in  the Norin tribe stole from a breeding ostrich.

Despite being only fifteen, if Clay returned home today with an egg, he  would pass into adulthood. With that, he'd earn the right to braid  ostrich feathers and beads made from the eggshell in his hair. Best of  all, he'd join Lynx in the raiders. Revered above all in Norin, raiders  rode on the outskirts of the caravan, defending their people and their  flock of ostriches from Chenayan soldiers and other predators.

But if Clay failed-and survived the encounter-he would be nothing more  than a server, performing the menial tasks needed to keep the Norin  caravan moving.

Her brother had accepted the risk. Lynx had one last chance to ensure he  was truly committed. She leaned closer and stared at him.

"You don't have to do this. You're not yet sixteen. I won't judge you if you say you're not ready."

Clay scowled at her. "I've been ready for months. Only he stopped me."

He: their father, King Thorn, leader of the Norin.

Lynx understood her brother's resentment; she had been thirteen when she  sneaked off to raid her egg. At the time, if anyone had known she  planned to raid, she would have been chained to a post to stop her  risking her life. But, as silent as an owl's wing, she had slipped away  from camp to face her ostrich. Now, at twenty, her father was training  her to take over leadership of the raiders when he died and her oldest  brother became king.

Who was she to deprive Clay of his chance to raid?

She squeezed his leg, encased in black leather trousers. "Then let's  focus on that ostrich. It's not going to hand you its egg, you know."

A smile quirked Clay's lips, filling Lynx with pleasure.

The ostrich gave them the full treatment, trying to lure them away from  the nest with a display of piteous limping. His one wing drooped at his  side, skimming the dusty ground as he lumbered away from them. The  invitation was clear: I'm wounded, easy prey. Come and get me rather  than my eggs.

But Lynx understood ostriches too well to be conned. The bird would  stagger away, leading them on if they fell for the trick. Then, a safe  distance from the clutch, he would rear up, slashing out his lethal  talons. Surviving the attack would tax Clay's fighting skills.                       
       
           



       

Clay leaned forward, ready to sprint to the nest.

Lynx gripped his thigh, whispering, "Not yet. Remember, an ostrich can  outrun you. Let it move farther away, or it will be on you in seconds."

Clay swallowed hard and then brushed away the sweat dripping in his eyes. "Don't forget your promise, Lynx."

"I won't. Today is all about you. Live, die-I won't interfere."

The ostrich hobbled as far away as she'd anticipated. Soon, it would  guess its mock dance had failed, and it would bound toward them to  attack.

"Go! May the Winds be with you." Lynx pushed Clay as he darted to his  feet. When he sprinted forward, Lynx stood, too. Although bound by both  her promise and Norin law not to interfere, she pulled her second  machete from its sheath.

Speed was everything. Lynx had drummed into Clay that he must forget the  ostrich, grab an egg, and secure it in his satchel before the bird  reached him. Then his hands-and his mind-would be free for the fight of  his life.

As she expected, the ostrich stopped. Its limping play forgotten, it  spun to peer at Clay through sharp, beady eyes. Then it pulled itself up  to its full height-nine majestic feet of muscle, bone, and feathers-and  let out a booming cry. Wings like giant shields, it sprinted toward  Clay, kicking up great clouds of dust behind it.

Lynx's heart sank as Clay looked back at it. Clay, no! Run!

Clay's eyes widened, and his pace slowed. His foot caught in an uneven  patch of ground, and he stumbled. By the time he found his feet, the  bird was bearing down on him, beating at him with its powerful wings.

Winds, please help him, Lynx pleaded. She tightened her grip on her  weapons, her body rigid with tension. She didn't need the Winds to  whisper that Clay's only hope was to forget the eggs and tackle the  ostrich.

Contrary to Norin wisdom, Clay stood in front of the bird. She guessed  in his panic, he forgot his training. She longed to scream to him to get  beside the ostrich, out of reach of its legs, and to go for its head.

Instead, she bit her lip until it bled. The other Norin might not know  they were raiding today, but she, Clay, and the Winds did. Neither of  them would cheat.

She expected to see fear in Clay's eyes, but determination blazed on his  face, and his machete remained rock steady in his hands. Then, as  graceful as a dancer, he veered to the side, avoiding a kicking leg, and  darted behind the giant bird.

Lynx heart clenched; she understood his strange tactics.

He had ignored her sensible training, learning instead from the stories  she had told him about her egg raid. This was how she had defeated her  ostrich, attacking it from behind as a lion would. It was the most  dangerous thing Clay could do. Her brother was making a point today that  he was man enough to win against the toughest odds.

With a screech, Clay leaped up onto the ostrich's back. The ostrich  whipped its beak around, jabbing and tearing at Clay hanging off its  tail feather. Clay slipped, and again, Lynx longed to scream advice, but  it wasn't necessary. Blood streaming from his face and arms, Clay  stabbed his blade into the ostrich's shoulder. The machete lodged deep  into the muscle.

Eyes wild with rage, the ostrich rolled on the ground, taking Clay down  with it. For a moment, all Lynx saw was her brother's boot sticking out  from under a mass of quivering feathers. Baying, the bird clambered back  to its feet. Still hanging onto the machete, Clay used the blade as an  anchor and heaved himself up until he mounted the ostrich like a horse.

A joyous smile spread across Lynx's face as Clay wrenched the machete free and swung it hard at the bird's neck.

With a sickening rasp, the blade severed skin and muscle. Beak gaping  and eyes wide with surprise, the head tumbled as a spray of blood arched  through the air. One of the ostrich's legs collapsed, and the dying  bird fell on its side, trapping Clay beneath its bulk.

Lynx held her breath.

Nothing moved but the swirling dust and the ostrich's blood seeping into the sand.

The bird's wing shuddered, then stopped.

Get up, Clay, Lynx pleaded, shifting her weight from one foot to the other. It's not over yet.

Clay heaved the massive bird aside, emerging blood-soaked and shaking.  Although his grimace betrayed his pain, he gave the air a victory punch.

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